NOBUYUKI SAKAKIBARA ANNOUNCEMENT
04/10/2006

Dream Stage Entertainment held a press conference at their Tokyo office on April 6th to announce two matches between Ikuhisa Minowa and Mirko Filipovic, and Josh Barnett and Alexander Emelianenko, at the May 5th PRIDE Open Weight Grand Prix 2006 Opening Round, to be held at the Osaka Dome. After the press conference, Dream Stage Entertainment CEO Nobuyuki Sakakibara surprised reporters when he told them that Mirko was concerned about Minowa's popularity.

"Mirko said that there's no problem with him facing Minowa but he's worried that Minowa may steal the show and leave him as the heel. So, he asked us not to portray him as a heel in the pre-fight videos. He's concerned about Minowa's rise in popularity," Sakakibara shocked the reporters with a rare glimpse at Mirko's more human side.

"Mirko has spent the last half-year taking on top fighters like Josh Barnett and Mark Hunt trying to rid himself of the regret from losing to Fedor (Emelianenko). However, Mirko wasn't able to concentrate on training for his fight with Hunt, as evidenced by the face that he had a cold, and a fever, when he came to Japan," Sakakibara explained that the reason Mirko wasn't able to rid himself of the nightmare where he lost Fedor was because of his poor physical condition.

"However, Mirko has been reborn this Spring," Sakakibara continued, putting his hopes on the birth of a new Mirko. "I think this will be a new Mirko, hunting down his prey in the Open Weight Grand Prix. Mirko took the Barnett and Hunt fights as they came. He wasn't fighting at his own pace, asking for fights. I think the mental aspect is the most important for him and I believe that he will come prepared. I think we will see a new Mirko."

And he is not without proof of Mirko's rebirth, "Mirko has apparently hired a new sparring partner. In the past he has called upon a variety of people to serve as his sparring partner, such as fighters like Mike Kyle from America and jujitsu coaches like Fabricio Werdum. This time, however, he has hired a Russian boxer. Mirko has decided to take another look at how his uses his main weapons as a striker and break free from the style of MMA-fighting he boxed himself in to. We saw a glimpse of this in his fight with Hunt when he used a right high-kick rather than his normal left high-kick. I think that he is going to rebuild himself in an all new way before his May 5th fight."

However, Sakakibara gave a warning to the newly reborn Mirko, "Minowa has apparently come up with a strategy that he believes he can't lose with. He plans on winning his way up to the Final Round after beating Mirko, so if Mirko underestimates Minowa, it will be at his own risk. "
Sakakibara then made it clear that there would be a "new system" used for this Open Weight Grand Prix. "Even if Fedor is seeded in, we are thinking of putting together 8~9 fights and then after considering fan votes and promoter recommendations, decide on match-ups for 7 fighters and have the remaining 2 fighters as reserve fighters. Additionally, we are also considering having the fans vote to decide who among the winners of the Opening Round that Fedor should fight." Sakakibara's statement reveals that this may not be an ordinary tournament and that the actual performance of the fighters may determine who advances to the next stage.